Optimisation doesn’t belong in my MMOs

A long time ago, in the esoteric pen and paper RPG world of GURPS (don’t worry if you have never heard of it), somebody wrote a gaming supplement called GURPS Vehicles. It contained rules for players to design and ‘build’ any kind of vehicle they could imagine, from any genre, and then use it in their GURPS game. These rules were physics based and very detailed, and you really needed a spreadsheet to work it out properly.

It was written by a very talented game designer called David Pulver, but I think even he was surprised at the very specific fanbase who adored his vehicles book, given that there really wasn’t much for roleplayers in it at all. Communities grew up based around sharing their vehicle stats and descriptions with each other, without actually playing the game itself.

And many of the regular GURPS players shunned the book, on the grounds that it was way too complicated and – frankly – unnecessary in a RPG where the GM could always handwave any interesting vehicles as necessary. It was almost as if the frenzy of design and optimisation was a separate game in itself.

Why optimisation is not the enemy

There has always been a healthy player base for games or puzzles based around optimisation, where you were able to sit down and carefully design your character/ vehicle/ simulation and then drop it into a simulated world and see what happened. Then tune it a bit for better performance, maybe even make it fight against other people’s simulations to see whose was best. This is just one step away from all the cross-over fanfics you ever imagined – so what happens exactly when Doctor Who fights Dracula? Is Thunderbird 1 faster than the X-Men’s fighter jet? etc etc

Mechanical optimisation is part and parcel of a very simulationist method of playing games and resolving any conflicts.

The alternative, more narrative/ dramatic method, is to decide in advance which of the characters/ vehicles etc should win and then tell the story appropriately. If the stats don’t work as intended, then you ignore or handwave them as necessary.

So – one of these methods lends itself far better to computer RPGs (hints: it’s the simulation model.) A computer is very well able to model a fight as a set of dice rolls with mathematically modelled entities. It’s not so well able to wing a story.

However, optimisation doesn’t necessarily make for a great gaming experience, because most of the optimisation is usually done as a perquisite to the game. So for example, with GURPS Vehicles, you sat down for a few hours with your spreadsheet and designed your amazing creations, and only after that could you play with them. Plus you couldn’t easily tweak them in play without another spreadsheet session. It’s better, I think, to look at optimisation as a separate game in itself, and a good optimisation game will not be easily boiled down to a few ‘correct’ solutions.

Another challenge with a good optimisation game is that you may not know 100% in advance what challenges your model will have to face. In a fighting game, you may not know what sort of opponents you will face. In a racing game, you may not know much about the terrain in advance. Because if you did, you’d just optimise for that environment and you’d be back to the few correct solutions again.

So in a computer game, I’d assert that optimisation is more fun as a minigame when you’re facing randomised challenges. That’s what makes the hybrid designs more interesting and the specialist designs more of a risk.

Why optimisation is the enemy

I commented on Nils’ post yesterday that I thought optimisation is one of the big enemies for players in MMOs these days.

This is because they’re not really well designed optimisation games in the first place. Optimisation becomes a tedious step of looking up builds/ gearouts online and copying them semi-blindly. Now, precisely who finds this fun? Is there really any player who derives any kind of fun from copying a spec from a webpage? (Aside from the relief of not having to worry about it so that they can get on with the parts of the game which they like.)

I don’t think so. The fun in optimisation is in designing your own character, trying it out, and then tweaking to make it work better. It’s not in being told “fire mages suck this patch, noob.”  Or “if you don’t have 5 resto shammies in the raid, you might as well stay home!” And yet MMO design – particularly WoW endgame design – has become so minmaxed that players (and raid leaders) who don’t use the optimal loadouts are at a disadvantage, and are seen as a disadvantage to any group they are in. A side effect of this is the ferocious emphasis on balancing the various specs. When tools are available that can rate the performance of any given spec to within 0.001% AND content is tuned for minmaxers then what can you expect? So MMO devs have managed to create an optimisation game that isn’t very fun for the majority of players. Well done, guys.

Right now, far from having any fun with optimisation, if there was a button in the game that said ‘optimise my character’ that would tweak talent trees, inform the player of the optimal dps rotation, and assign some optimal gear for the current raid then most players would HAPPILY press it.

It used to be that part of the fun of optimising your MMO character was actually collecting your gear, which might have come from a variety of different sources. That too has been largely optimised out – a combination of gear lists, token loot, known instance and crafted loot and readily available information from websites makes even this feel more like a chore. How much fun is it really to gear up in WoW these days? It’s a combination of running random heroics (with relevant tabards for rep also) and whatever you can buy from the auction house.

On top of this has been tacked a fairly fun raiding model where how people actually play their characters during a fight becomes more important. This to me is the more fun side of gaming optimisation, where you have to react a bit more quickly and flexibly to things going on in game, and optimise your strategy/tactics, not your build.

Optimising as a part of gameplay is still fun. But optimising talent trees is not a fun part of current, tightly tuned MMOs. Sure, you can play with those talents to your heart’s content and have some fun messing around, but the choices on offer are not very real. And it can be a heartbreaker. What exactly happens in a game such as Rift if my favourite soul is not the best dps spec? Right now – nothing, my guild won’t care and it won’t stop us downing monsties (thanks Hawley). How about in 6 months time when everyone is minmaxed to the hilt and other people can check your specs?

I still think there is a lot of fun to be had from tweaking characters and character progression, but the most fun gameplay is that which happens as part of the actual session, not outside the game itself. And my ideal MMOs will be far more about how you actually play than how you spreadsheet.

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50 thoughts on “Optimisation doesn’t belong in my MMOs

  1. Anecdotally, I know that the people who simply copied their spec off some site always got smashed on the charts by people who knew why that spec was what it was, and therefore knew how to change it to suit their specific situation when warranted. My observation is that the copyable online specs merely lessen the gap between those who understand their character and those who don’t.

    That minor quibble aside, my real issue with your point is that I don’t think the major difference between WoW now and WoW of yore is the mathiness of the optimization now. The main difference is that raid gearing is boring and repetitive, each tier you gear up again and it’s exactly the same. In vanilla, you didn’t have to worry about gearing as an individual, there was no pugging, 5 man loot was useless, and so gearing up just became a matter of showing up for raids and working as a team to down bosses. Boring and grindy tasks are much more bearable when done in that fashion. There were still BiS lists back there, but it’s not that the math for the new ones are so much more complicated, it’s just that they are so much longer(and contain so many more different stats). The long list of options makes each epic feel that much less epic. That’s a lot of opinion, centered around the fact that the math for WoW was there in vanilla, just less widely disseminated. Go back to vanilla-style, with no haste/crit/mastery, and only a few items in each tier for each slot, and we’d see min/maxing become of limited utility again. In wow, how many times did you send someone to look up a spec, and how many times to look up stat weightings? I know for me, like 85% the latter.

    Trion seems pretty bent on copying Blizzard’s item blizzard, as it were, so we’ll see if they avoid creating 4-5 new types of item stats. I grow pessimistic on that score, seeing all of their other recent changes. As far as your spec worries, just like in early wow, those calculations are already being done. Whether they become a social necessity remains to be seen, I’d guess yes, doubly so if the subscriber base grows.

    • ” My observation is that the copyable online specs merely lessen the gap between those who understand their character and those who don’t.”

      I agree, but really I think it just jumpstarts the whole process. A good player who starts with a premade spec will get up to speed faster than a good player who starts from scratch. So all the good players will eventually start with the online spec and work from there. You’ll see this a lot with alts — even people who started from scratch with their main character will just want to do whatever it takes to get the alt into dungeons fast.

      One of the things I remember from vanilla was the deal with resistance sets, and particularly nature resist for AQ40 that sent people off back to low level dungeons to pick up resistance pieces. I don’t know how much players enjoyed it, but it was interesting game design to expand the range of gear sources like that.

      Not being a fan of optimisation, I enjoyed gearing in vanilla precisely because I just turned up to raids and bid on my class tier gear when it dropped :)

    • That’s true, Kurt. Guild Wars happens to have websites with char build and team setups for PvE, PvP, this or that mode or even for farming and specific areas.
      The smarter players adapt for every area and add their personal flavor by understanding the strength and weakness of the current setup, while some try to do every zone no matter what enemies await them with the very same build.

      There is also the opposite, players trying to find the absolute perfect build for every area instead of just trying again and honing their player skills. The perfect build alone is nothing without proper execution, after all.

      The fun lies in the mix: proper planning and proper execution.

      Funnily while talking about the model better suited for computer RPGs, one could also argue that especially with story elements getting more and more weight in design we are getting again closer to the handwaving human DM that adjusts things appropriately so that the party can progress. Also see the “inspiration” buff in LOTRO. You are meant to win. You often literally can’t die with it. Despite the warning that some instances might be too hard all alone.

      There are efforts by the Guild Wars 1+2 design teams to encourage people to adapt and react to environment effects. Like the effects of heavy rain on fire and water magic. Guild Wars 1 just got a pvp only effect called “Flux”, every week or month a special global effect like the mentioned environmental effects gets added that makes some skills, skill combos and team strategies more attractive or makes them less effective.

      There is a downside. Imagine you want to play Schafkopf and then someone tells you the rules and some cards changed a week ago.

      That’s the problem. Finding the sweet spot between handwaving success and build optimization, between giving people new opportunities and a creative challenge or rather just annoying them with changes.

      I think that’s the crux of MMO design, trying to cater to everyone or at least as many as possible.

      Try serving a dungeon/steak that appeals to everyone. Some want it bloody, some medium, some almost burnt.

      I have not played since early WotLK, so this is pure speculation: From feedback about the hard and unfun new Cataclysm dungeons I gather that people got too much used to the very easy WotLK instances and that the new instances might be too hard for people who did not taste a medium or hard steak in ages.

      I think future MMOs should try to design skills that allow players to show their skill in the execution of said “skills” and put emphasis on that. This will also be more satisfying for the players than a 1-5% dps advantage because the build and rotation they picked is about that better than other combos. While there will always be a “best” spec if everything works perfectly, you won’t send away an ice mage who is a true wizard with ice you won’t force him to respec or do it differently.
      That’s also a nice variation of “bring the player, not the stats”. :)

  2. This is an unsolvable issue.

    1: Players want choices.
    2: If there are choices there are by definition good and bad choices. (or the choice is merely vanity)
    3: Bad choices have negative consequences by definition
    4: Players don’t want negative consequences.

    • I’m not so sure players do want this type of choice. Or rather, I think the GW style of ‘choose your skill gearout before each adventure’ is a better model than the talent tree.

    • Incorrect. If there’s an obvious “right” choice then it isn’t a choice, it’s an IQ test. Choice occurs when you have to make a trade off. Maybe talent spec A is best for fighting boss A, spec B is best for boss B and spec C does a bit less damage against each but is a good compromise.

      Which then raises another question: does having easy respec options (or Rift’s multiple roles) encourage min-maxing and devalue hybrid and generalist builds?

      • Exactly. You have your specialized Raid/Dungeon spec for Tank/Heal or DPS mode depending on your class, your PvP spec and then the third spec could be a farming/PvE spec.

        PvP is a completely different world in most MMOs, so for those who want to do both with one char dual/triple/multi specs are a wonderful thing.

        The sad thing is that such hyper-specialization is often demanded and being able to switch specs indeed reinforces highly specialized specs.

    • Ah, GURPS Vehicles. Brings back many fond memories of hours wasted designing cars and submarines and spaceships and robots. Were a brilliant system, and dang near useless if ya were just wantin’ ta play the damn game alreadies.

      Some nights I dreams I ain’t an amazingly virile orc warrior, but rathers a pasty-skinned fluid dynamics engineer. This rather unvirile dude sometimes get fer ta grapple with issues of automobile grill designs. If ya makes the front of the car all smooth with no openings, is best fer aerodynamics, but yer engine’ll overheat. If’n ya has a huge opening up front, ya gets a cooled engine but birds and children and manatees what get in yer way’ll smash the radiator. A nice solid iron bar grill’ll protect the hardware, but could look ugly as a night elf and then nobody buys yer car (paging Mr Edsel). Point be, there is no optimal design, because ya got (a) competing goals and (b) multiple operating conditions and (c) unknowables (like what will look “cool” in five years). So, ya does yer best ta find a balance. And every company’s car line is a little different.

      I thinks MMO designers could learn a lot from this glubberfuggeried situation. Don’t make the fights so damn clockworky. Don’t make every damn piece of data out ta the players. Don’t worry abouts if the theorycrafters is gonna spill each others bloods arguin’ fer months over crit vs haste. I thinks we’d all be a lot better off.

      • You know, I think my experience as an engineer prolly colours how I feel about optimisation. Which is, “Yes, very nice dear, but back in the real world where we have to make this thing as cheaply and reliably as possible, and we don’t have hours to let the code converge, here’s a much simpler albeit less accurate way of implementing it. Don’t worry, it’ll be good enough.”

        Or in other words, I have very little interest in optimising for perfection.

        I think what I enjoy in games is being able to find the good enough spec/ gear which is fun for me and good enough for anyone else, and which will never require me to run 500 heroics etc if I don’t feel like it. So the atmosphere in which people are always pushing to optimise assuming unlimited time, energy and enthusiasm doesn’t suit my style.

        Esp when I know fine well that I can hold my end up in whatever progression content we’re doing and that any failing to kill bosses is really really not because I’m not decked out in full badge gear. :)

  3. Optimizing to me is fun, my spec is close to cookie cutter but not exactely the same. But then there is no “optimised” spec for me as i’m a healer. Neither is there optimised gear. I can gear for throughput rocking the hps meters. But i’ll be running dry on encounters. I can gear for endurance, having enough mana to keep going indefinately but not putting out enough hps. The ratio of endurance / througput is determined by the duration of a fight. Perfectely i’ll be running low on mana have blown my cooldowns and down the boss as i cast my last healing spell, Having to drink straight after before being able to bring the raid back up. But if i pick those gear levels, and we bring a few dps that are having a bad day, or just play worse then others. We wipe since i’m oom. If we bring better dps i’m standing there with 50% mana left but still lost 1 during an aoe spike since my throughput was to low. For me the optimal gear set doesn’t excist. Its dependant too much on the performance of others.

    What most players that are confronted with others demanding that they should optimize more should remember is the added benefit of said optimisation.

    Spamming a 1 spell rotation might be fun, but isn’t optimal and will give you terrible dps. Its unlikely you’re playing in content where players chide you for optimisation if you follow this route so its not applicable. Should this actually be what you secretely want to do then by all means go ahead, but avoid higher content levels or find a game suitable for your playstyle. I suggest Tales of Fantasy.
    The same applies to players wanting to select gear purely on looks.

    So now we’re down to content where optimisation “matters” i’ll take some old shadowpriest examples ( no longer valid as systems have changed ) to illustrate. Clipping dot’s, this used to lose you one or more of the dot ticks so your damage per GCD was lower if you clipped, on the other hand if you waited for it to drop you’d miss a tick so your overall damage was lower. The damage per GCD loss was less significant so it was considered better to clip the last tick if you could use a cooldown, and to reapply the dot immediately after the last tick fell off if there wasn’t a cooldown available. The ideal situation would be no casting downtime and timing all spells exactely so they allowed you to not clip. In reality that scenario was unobtainable. Overall if you constantely clipped you would lose some dps but the total lost was in the range of 1.5%

    The same with gear, having a second BIS option in a slot changes your dps in the area of 0.2 – 0.5%. Optimisation is important to increase your dps, but just having a bad run with procs, a bit of movement costing you that nuke that went off cooldown 1 second in and is stalled for the next 15 seconds. Those things all effect your overall dps more then the one piece of gear does. Optimisation works fine in a simulation but in a real scenario to much outside factors come into play. That isn’t to say that optimisation will not change your results. However it does indicate that the level of skill needed to benefit from it in its fullest, not just from you but from your entire raid, is likely to high for it to matter to begin with.

    Hence min – maxing gear is really only nescessary for the best of the best players. Unless you’re going for world first attempts, the gain you get from a fully optimised character, versus a character with sub optimal gear at the same gearlevels is not that big a difference. As said, failure to execute the perfect rotation, due to movement, either by boss, or simply because your tank moved the boss or your healer moved to the left to avoid some aoe rather then the right will set your overall dps back by similar numbers as that piece of gear will. And in an encounter at the level that most players play, those situations are far more common. Get your raid to execute the encounter to perfection, and when they do so every time, and you’re still wiping, then it is time to look into optimisation.

    If at any given point your raid is attempting a boss kill and there is no countdown, that allows you to use a potion a split second before entering combat so you can double potion on the encounter, they really ought not to be talking about “sub optimal gear” The added damage from a second potion easily outweighs everything that min maxing can do for your character.

    In reality a lot of players blame failed encounters on sub optimal gear and the like, when they ought to be looking at execution. Ofcourse you’ll want to optimise as far as you can, and avoid equipping gear with the completely wrong stats. ( healers running with hit gear come to mind ) But in reality optimisation at the level some players insist it needs to take place is far beyond what is needed at the level of skill that they play.

    Changing your sub optimal piece of gear will not change your arcane mage from doing 15k dps to doing 22k dps. The best you can hope for is pushing it up to 15.5k dps. And better execution of an encounter can easily compensate for that. A higher skill level will do the same.

    In reality unless you’re part of the top half percent of WoW players. Optimisation is a redundant choice and you could likely increase your dps more if you spent the time farming for that optimal gear piece in practicing your execution of encounters. Or simply standing at a dummy perfecting your rotation, training yourself to use procs faster etc.

    And one last hint, just as i don’t, neither do you belong to those top half percent of wow players, or the guy telling you to optimise your gear more. Leave the min – maxing to where it belongs. At the very top.

    However that is not to say that healers should start rolling on +hit gear obviousely.

    • You make some really good points here. I think particularly the idea that optimisation isn’t as overwhelming for healers/ tanks is a good one, and I think it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed tanking in WoW. I’m sure my spec was fine but the main thing was that everyone could see that I could play (that’s just a tanking thing) so I didn’t have to beat any meters to prove anything.

      “In reality a lot of players blame failed encounters on sub optimal gear and the like, when they ought to be looking at execution”

      Also, yes I agree totally. I think part of the problem is that it’s so easy to check someone’s gear et al at the moment so that’s the issue people focus on because it’s the easiest one to change.

      • I enjoy playing as tank or healer the most. I never cut it as DPS, as I feel it requires a more rigid min/max approach in today’s WoW, and I just always felt very crushed when playing the number game. I always felt like I was underperforming, and that’s no fun. I play to have fun.

        My personal fun in character optimization is gear selection in endgame. I post these detailed gear lists in my blog, but mostly because I sit down and compile such lists anyhow. I might as well share them. I don’t really care about the perfect spec, and seriously, with WoW’s reduced talent trees, there’s not much you can do wrong. I love gear progression.

        In Rift I have kept myself free of any information regarding optimum specs and rotation and just play. Which has been pretty fun.

      • I found playing as dps in Cataclysm to be a bit frustrating and here’s why:

        – lots of melee-unfriendly fights
        – Arms wasn’t performing that brilliantly as a spec in general

        Which all adds up to the fact that I could be playing reasonably well, but the game and the comparisons with other class/ dps and the meters were making me feel that I was relatively rubbish. Was I a bad player because I picked a melee dps spec in an expansion which didn’t favour them?

        The feedback that I was getting personally (ie. my feel that I had pretty much nailed the rotation and was enjoying the class) was contradicting the objective evidence from damage meters, and it was largely to do with class and encounter design.

        You could say, “fine, switch talent tree and/or class,” and I’m not saying that Arms is fail because it’s not. But there’s a point where these choices are no longer optimisation as much as feeling forced to play whichever spec the designers currently favour. (Or feel as though you are playing a guessing game about what spec/ role they’ll favour this time around.)

  4. I would disagree that raiding is tuned for minmaxers. Designed for close-to-optimal perhaps, but losing 1k dps because you have minmaxed is not going to make or break most raid fights.

    And if they tuned it for poor specs (Taking PVP talents, points equally split between three trees) then anyone with an ounce of sense will have a spec that intstantly “overgears” them. (Overgears isn’t the word, but you know what I mean)!

  5. As long as their are MMO’s (or games in general) there will always be…

    A) people who squeeze every last bit out of their character and work at figuring out exactly how they can be the best.

    B) people who can’t be bothered to do any of that stuff, so just copy everything they A’s have done.

    C) people who enjoy the game, but don’t really worry about that infinite level of perfection that others do.

    I’ve nearly always been a C, which works for me because quite frankly I don’t have the time to put that much ‘work’ into a game. Though, I do remember that when I raided (this is late vanilla / BC) I actually felt guilty that my gear wasn’t as high level as others in the raid and I felt that I was letting the raid down. Not a great feeling to have, and eventually my raiding stopped.

    It is a shame, but you can’t fault A’s for wanting to put the time in, it’s good to have that level of commitment to a game and want to be the best at it. Though, without these people everything would certainly be more casual, but who would be the people who pioneer the end raid content, and give others something to achieve.

    I can’t imagine there’ll ever be a true solution, as i’m sure most people have at least partially used the A information and become a bit of a B themselves.

  6. I actually see this in our PnP roleplaying as well. My boyfriend loves rolling up new characters just for the fun of it and to develop different builds. I on the other hand hate that part and always drag my feet when I have to do it, because I just want to be playing the actual game already.

    I rather like WoW’s new talent trees for that reason because it’s hard to make a completely awful spec in them. While levelling I only get a talent point every 2-3 levels, and it’s usually not difficult to find a talent that looks decent enough to spend it on. The less I have to think about the numerical details of my spec, the better for me. It’s only when I hit max level that things suddenly become more complicated.

    • I like the new talent trees a lot for the same reason.

      One thing I also find is that I enjoy making choices far more when there isn’t any optimisation issue at stake. I have far more fun picking a class than a talent spec, for example, or picking a love interest in a Bioware game.

      • I hate them I hate them I hate them I hate them I hate them!
        XD

        Lol right. Now that that’s outta the batter…

        What Tesh said, and also… I’m a minmax nugget at heart. This is part of the reason for my enduring love for GW.

        Minmaxing *can* be very creative. It’s a wonderful feeling to stumble upon (usually after much tinkering) something that gives awesome numbergasms that you haven’t seen anyone doing – and even better when you haven’t been able to google anyone doing it either!

        It’s the whole discovery thrill, only hidden in game mechanics, and not in world environment.

        I did so many fun things with my priests and warlocks, prior to the new talent trees.

        New talent trees, just one more reason why I cancelled yet again after one month of Cata, levelling a new char from scratch to 85, with no intention of ever going back to WoW.

    • I’ve written about the talent trees before. I don’t like them at all because I want to experiment and tinker. I’m the guy who would have talent points in all three trees by level 20 just because I wanted to see what it would do. I dislike being limited. (It’s a similar complaint as those who fuss about being stuck on the yellow brick road in leveling content. Either way, we tend to want to play our way, not the “right” way.)

      That said, as I’ve noted in my “Autopilot Progression” articles, I’m not against giving players who want those limits the option to constrain their experience. In fact, I think it’s preferred.

      In other words, I like that there are deep optimization options, but I want to be able to bypass them if I don’t feel like optimizing and just playing with “good enough” builds.

      To that end, I’d argue that optimization isn’t an enemy, but rather, game design that demands optimization is an enemy. I think that’s a crucial distinction.

  7. Pingback: Quickie: Optimization « Procrastination Amplification

  8. Perhaps games should be designed so that it’s hard to determine a best build. This might involve encounters that break particular builds, or that have random elements that affect particular builds differently. Boss behavior might become a complex function of player behavior, so simulation becomes difficult or impossible.

    • I would argue to not make it hard to determine the best build. I can think of 3 ways of finding the optimal build:
      1. copy it off someone who already came up with an optimal one
      2. make a mathematical model; tune the variables that allow you to set a focus (e. g. focus on sustained DPS, focus on minimal damage received while doing at least 50% of patchwerk optimal DPS etc.) and constraints and simulate – simulation will eventually come with an optimal result given the criteria
      3. trial and error

      1st one is not fun at all but at least takes close to no time.

      2nd one is fun for a small minority but I would say that majority do not find it fun. It’s also complex and takes a lot of time.

      3rd one has a couple of drawbacks:
      – feedback from the game is needed. In WoW, DPS get very little if any feedback regarding their performance.
      – consider stats as an example: for DPS, you can use hit which increases your DPS, haste which increases your DPS, critical which increases your DPS, mastery which increases your DPS… A feedback issue again.
      – the players need some time to find how does the change effect their performance, again simple environments make this easier

      I would say that an environment that is too complex does not exactly encourage the players to try out various changes. And the players that are the most likely to do so are the most likely to resort to creating a mathematical model too.

  9. I think one of the biggest issues in this entire debate is the “vocal minority” vs. the “silent majority.” As most of us are at least peripherially aware of, the forum posters, bloggers, and other individuals who regularly speak out on behalf of MMO “communities” really only represent a small fraction of said community. The vast majority of players don’t post on forums, read blogs, listen to podcasts, or any of the other things that people like us do. So when we ask how an issue affects “the community,” who are we talking about? Are we addressing “the choir” so to speak? Talking to fellow active members of the community? Or are we claiming to speak for that silent group that makes up the majority of actual players?

    So the question really isn’t, “How does my favorite forum poster/blogger feel about ‘optimization?'” The question we need to try and answer is, “How does that ‘silent majority’ feel about it?” For the average guy who is just working on collecting his 100th pet, or finding every engineering recipe, or just wants to kick back in a dungeon every now and then, does that extra 1% of DPS matter? If his performance is sufficient to accomplish the tasks he set for himself, does he care if his spec is five points off “optimal?” If he can perform sufficiently in a group that he is not an obstacle to their success, does it matter if he wears his old ZA voodoo mask to heroic runs and likes giggling at the gnomes?

    I think we have a tendency to forget that this community that the various blogs, forums, and other websites consist of is just one small piece of the pie. We don’t speak for everybody. We don’t even speak for the majority.

    • I think the silent majority wants to do the main content rather than side projects like collecting minipets. I think they want to do it without needing to do excessive homework but most people I meet as a guild leader are happy to improve their characters so that they can perform well in raids.

      The issues are the margins between fully optimised and casual (no way should the min maxxer do 10 times the dps) and the inaccessibility of the information. Solving those issues is on the agenda for the next wave of MMOs.

      • Anything I say about the silent minority would be a total guess. But I think you’re probably wrong about the minipets, I suspect many more people like doing that than who want to raid.

  10. I really enjoy optimisation and I think it’s widespread. Not everyone who looks at EJ cut and pastes the template, some of us read and discuss the theories behind the cookiecutters.

    I also see the sort of tanking advice that bloggers like you and Kadomi and Veneratio give to be perfectly in tune with the number crunching, all part of solving the great mysteries of a complex system.

    I do think it’s possible to be both a theorycrafter and an open-minded person. If someone tells me they’ve got a weird spec my first question isn’t “r u a nub?” but “does it work well?”

    I really do think theorycrafters are getting maligned for the actions of people who aren’t theorycrafters. Theorycrafting is about exploration analysis experimentation and peer review. It’s a fun sub-game within the larger context of a virtual world.

    • I guarantee you that any advice I have ever given had very little to do with numbercrunching and in a nutshell, this is the difference.

      The numbercrunching is something you do outside the context of actually playing the game. Tanking advice is all about how to handle a fight, with possibly a link out to recommended specs and some explanations of how they work.

      But don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against theorycrafters and I’m really glad they do the work so that I don’t have to. But I think a mass market game should not require people to sit down with spreadsheets and hours at the practice dummies to work out how to optimise it. And unfortunately, the social pressure is to use the optimised specs/ rotations once they have been worked out and included in numerous addons etc. So it doesn’t feel optional.

      • I think I have a somewhat abnormal perception.

        “Don’t turn your back on a boss” and “mitigation is decreased by 42.7% when not facing a boss” seem to me precisely the same piece of advice.

        I guess I really am a geek.

        To give another example – for a long time EJ recommended Hit at the boot enchant for Enhancement Shamans. And it out-performed any other enchant on target dummies.

        Then one of their brightest players analysed the effect of runspeed on dps uptime and provided the maths. It showed run speed was much better than hit (back in TBC and the days of fights like Malchezzar).

        Runspeed was always the correct maths solution, EJ was wrong for a couple of years. And some players were intuitively arguing that runspeed was better than hit without showing maths during those years.

        The answer that wasn’t supported by maths was correct and the answer supported by maths was wrong. So theorycraft is not about numbers, nor is optimisation.

        In another example I recently blogged about the pvp Purifier. That always does terrible numbers but it wins warfronts.

  11. See, I liked Vanilla’s talent trees, and I didn’t mind the later bigger talent trees. I guess I’m one of those hardasses that’s like ”making mistakes builds character” when you take Spirit leather on your hunter or make a bad spec. Learn from mistakes, try again. I do kinda miss res gear and badly itemized stuff in some masochistic way. :D

    I’m not so bad with optimiziation at the moment-simply because there are only two instances where you really, truly need to optimize 100%: High-End PvP and high-end PvE(Heroic raids, Normal raids for now, and higher end Heroics). If you just play the game for fun, do some casual battlegrounds with friends and the like, you don’t need to fully optimize. I’ve always looked at the optimization part as…hmm. To make an analogy, you mention fighting games. Let’s say that Bobby really likes Street Fighter. But he’s casual. He’s a laid back player that just wants to have fun.

    But if Bobby decides he wants to compete in the high end, he’s *going* to have to optimize his game. He’s going to have to learn frames, counters, he’s going to have to go over all the characters so he knows what they can do to him as well as know his own inside and out. Now, this doesn’t stop Bobby from enjoying Street Fighter casually at home or at the arcade with friends.

    Now maybe Bobby, Susie and Jack all play WoW together. The three of them just like to pop around-Bobby likes his Prot warrior, Susie likes her Beastmaster Hunter and Jack plays a Sub Rogue. They have fun, they do some casual dungeons, they run BGs together on weekends, they don’t bother looking up uber builds, they just use the common sense they have(they take their cap talent, don’t fill in EVERY point in a tree), and MAYBE, at best, read up some wiki tips or something. This is fine and if they’re having fun with it, why not? But when you step into the high end game, IMO, you’ll likely have to put in some elbow grease. it doesn’t matter if it’s an MMO, a fighting game, a racing game(casual home player just tinkers with their cars and has fun, a more hardcore competitive player tweaks his machine out).

    Now to be fair, I DO think this tier of raids are tuned a little high for the Bobby/Susie/Jack types who just wanna bop around for fun, though I have a feeling Blizz’s idea is to have bigger and better gear nerf them in time(and indeed, I think soon before Firelands the Normal modes are going to be getting a nerf as well.) I also think the Heroics will be plenty plowable when the current Valor stuff drops; I’ve tanked a few in full endgame gear for folks who were less than optimzed and we had few problems. (To put the Heroic thing into analogy-yeah, you might have to do some optimizing for that as well-just like if Bobby wanted to compete down the street at his local arcade on a small end, he’d have to beef up his game a bit.)

    • Actually talking about frames and counters reminds me of the extra pressure in WoW to use the right addons and UI layout and control methods/ macros as well as talents and gear. Somewhere in there, there’s still a game you can just log in and play but . yeah.

      • But doesn’t that pressure come from, again, going into the higher-end stuff?

        If someone who wants to play WoW gets their kicks from playing 6 different alts over both factions, leveling them slowly, collecting achievments, pets, mounts, and the like, why would they ever really need to pay attention to the hardline optimization/addons/UI? Again, this is something that you only really need to do when you start doing endgame stuff.

        I mean, regular dungeons, while leveling, are very tame now. You can absolutely do them with minimal optimization. A turtle pet can tank mobs in RFC, for example.

        But when you start getting into Heroic modes, there’s a whole new level of optimizing(for example, optimal way of dealing with Heroic V&T is to actually put Subtlety rogues inside the twilight realm. Sub is not a typical PvE DPS spec, but for an optimal Heroic V&T attempt? Yeah, they’re golden.)

        While I DO have my complaints with WoW these days-and boy, I have a lot, don’t get me wrong-I do think that all in all it caters to a wide variety of people. High end heroics and raids for the more number-crunching bunch. Dungeons, achivements, and collectibles for those who just want to play and don’t care about downing bosses.

        I suppose in a perfect world there would be 3 levels of raids-Casual, Normal, and Heroic, with the Casual level able to be played by anyone who knows how to push the buttons and at least not stand in the red stuff, with Normals requiring some number crunching and optimizing and Heroics requiring optimizing everything to extremes.

      • I don’t use any addons. None at all. I play WoW “naked”, as it were. It works just fine.

        I’m no raider, though. If raiding demands addons, I think that’s bad design.

      • The thing is, a lot of guides won’t say “well, don’t worry about XYZ unless you’re going into higher end stuff”, they’ll just include all of it. So there’s just a kind of increasing pressure to define what makes “correct play.”

        I think also some of this is that I personally would prefer if people judge my play based on what they see in game and not what addons or armoury report, and I’d rather play a game where this is possible.

      • Maybe the guides include all the information because they are written for people who seek the information? I don’t really think that guides should be blamed for people reading them out of context – first, they actually help people, second the ones that like to judge players based on a checklist instead of understanding your character will find a way to do so without the guides.

    • “I’m not so bad with optimiziation at the moment-simply because there are only two instances where you really, truly need to optimize 100%: High-End PvP and high-end PvE(Heroic raids, Normal raids for now, and higher end Heroics)”

      This statement is as credible as saying “you can drive any old jalopy to the grocery store, but to get to work or handle a racetrack you need an F1 car.” For heroic raid bosses, yeah ya needs fer ta be high and tight (though I seriously doubt 100%). But when I first killed Magmaw I still had a frickin’ 318 gun, and a number of 333s. I ain’t never gotten an epic-level enchant on nuthin’. Hell if I know if me gems and glyphs is optimal or not. And yet the bosses still die.

      Sure, life’d be easier if everyone was running 100% optimal 100% of the time. Hardly means they need fer ta be, though.

      • Early raid bosses are quite doable unoptimized. When you start getting to, say, Nefarian, I mean-I had a 333 cloak when we first downed him, but people were specced and geared at least properly. Halfus, Magmaw, Tron, and most of the earlier bosses you just need a measurement of ‘optimization’, just be properly specced and geared-which in and of itself is a form of optimizing. I mean, Chimaeron Normal has a healing requirement for the Feud phases; the healers need to be able to keep the raid up during those feud phases. I don’t think it would be able to be done with a team of healers without a 31 point talent and Agility gear, where I can actually heal a regular old low-level dungeon on a druid in a Feral spec and half-Feral gear.

        That’s basically what I mean by needing to optimize somewhat for raids. I mean I had a 318 gun going into Magmaw as well, and we all had blues and some mixed gear but we had a minimum requirement that they suggest for the raids, and we made sure to know our rotations and the like. And of course, particularly in a 25 man you can carry a couple for some fights(though some fights can make that difficult if people don’t get Lightning Rods out of the raid for Ascendant Council, for example.)

        But I can understand the frustration of some folks-I mean really I would like to see a world with many big-time MMOs for everyone, of different kinds. There are, but I don’t think there are enough.

      • But you didn’t say “optimize somewhat” for raids – you said 100% is needed. The hell do “optimize somewhat” even mean, anywho? Appears it means “not worthless”, which I agree with. Ain’t like I raid nekkid and 0/0/0 (well, except fer that one time, but that don’t really count). But it don’t remotely mean 100% optimized neither, so please stop saying it do.

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  14. And this is why I never liked 3rd ed d&d. It felt like all the character building was done ahead of time without even playing, with a bunch of unnatural combinations, and then the game itself was totally separate and you just waited for your chance to add that one level of Monk or whatever.

  15. Well said. One possibility is less problems (as in solutions with defined solutions), more choices.

    http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=22456

    Personally, I enjoy both the games of build optimisation as well as optimal gameplay, but I would really rather learn this for myself through experimentation and discovery, rather than having the answer spoonfed to me by a website.

    The issue boils down to in-game rewards being contingent on super-optimal group gameplay.

    There’s the aforementioned stress on optimisation of gear to eke out the best stat percentages, mostly because it’s an easy target when you have it available for all to look at, it provides a goal (go collect this and that) and it’s not even that personal an attack (easier to blame your gear than your execution.)

    Then to be learning the content, is by default, to be not-so-optimal in gameplay because one has not yet achieved any mastery. There’s a very slippery slope where not-so-optimal becomes unforgivably sub-optimal in the eyes of a community – some have lower tolerance limits than others.

    If the in-game rewards do not require super-optimal performance, then groups are on the whole more forgiving. City of Heroes’ teaming, Rift’s rifts – possibly unequal contribution can still net an entire group a reward as long as the overall goal is achieved. Issue: Players complain about perceived ‘leechers.’ Removing awarded rewards from being visible to other players may help.

    If the in-game rewards do not require a group, then players can progress at their own pace through the content and gameplay, making their own choice as to whether to refer to a walkthrough or guides or experiment with it themselves. Example, Guild War’s mission content which can be done solo, in small groups or an entire team of human players according to preference.

    It’s worse if you have to repeat the same gameplay to get sufficient rewards for all in the group (the ol’ random loot roll or DKP). Then there is much more pressure to repeat the content as FAST as possible, and a measurement of optimal becomes not just success, but success within a given time limit.

    If you reward it, people will do it. If you don’t reward it, or maybe even add a penalty, people will stop. Left 4 Dead for example imposes both implicit and explicit consequences for non-cooperative behavior – loners die fast and horribly, failure always results. A timer on dungeon instances provides a certain sanity check for how frequently a certain behavior repeats.

    Wild idea: What if we reward for build experimentation? Bonus rewards for attempting the same content with different specs or builds on the same character. This would put more heavy stress on optimal gameplay using different builds and execution, searching up cookie cutter specs or macros may just be a starting point.

    I guess ultimately, developers need to decide what they wish to reward. Optimise the pursuit of perfect gear? Don’t bother asking why their game is filled with cookie cutter avatars then. Optimise a perfect build? Welcome to the world of third-party “suggested” build websites. Optimise gameplay execution? Too punishing a difficulty leads to obedient robots dancing and macro’ing in set patterns.

    The million-dollar question, can one design a way to reward experimentation, learning or flexibility of reaction? And would it really be popular?

  16. raiding doesn’t demand addons, i only use a clique / grid combination due to preferring to click cast over my targets, but im perfectably happy with mouseover macro’s aswell.

    I don’t use any addons while dpsíng. Just the standard recount stuff but that isn’t needed really.

    I think the only optimisation needed for 5 mans is wearing the apropriate gear, and speccing according to your role. No further research except reading the description of spells and talent trees is needed. Similar for finding the rotation.

    The point where min / maxing comes in to play is really hardmodes in raiding. Anything below that can be done by players that have the minimal requirement in skill.

    If wearing spec appropriate gear / using a sensible rotation is considered too much optimisation, or too much effort then perhaps group content isn’t for that player.

    Optimising to me is picking the appropriate option between being 12 pts over the hit cap, or 8 points below compared to the gain of say 20 haste and 10 mastery.

    If optimising is considered picking the intellect leathers as a moonkin and agility as a cat, then we’re not really talking about the same stuff here. As far as i’m concerned that isn’t optimising at all.

    And like i posted before, optimisation isn’t what makes or breaks an encounter. Skill and execution do. Look at improving the positioning of a boss. Kite some adds rather then having the tank tank them. Huddle up close together on aoe phases to help the healer deal with it.

    Take a look at the encounter and figure out why it is going wrong. Adapt for it. Better gear or optimisation doesn’t help you complete these encounters, all it does is make the “zerg” option come closer, and since zerging is ignoring every tactical aspect in favour of just nuking a boss down fast enough that will in the end, given high enough gear always work. This is where the “need more / better ” gear mentality comes from. In the end, if everyone is geared enough, you can kill bosses fast enough shortening phases and getting a boss down.

    It’s not needed though, likely the phase that was giving you trouble, is executed wrongly, players are taking avoidable damage, or positioned wrong for a healer to deal with it. Or possibly just missing some key tactical element. Like interrupting a special ability the boss does.

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  18. Unfortunatly to provide sufficient choices where they are seen to be choices a certain amount of min-maxing opportunities will be introduced.
    Too few choices makes them obvious without external resources but results in everyone being the same.
    Too many opens it up to a larger choice, but greater options to min and max, and also the reliance on other resources because those in-game are simply not sufficient.
    Has to be a balance between depth and choice, and ease of understanding and since the opinion of what that balance is will vary from player to player then it is impossible to get it right.

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